Technology Assessment from the Stance of a Medieval Historian

Technology Assessment from the Stance of a Medieval Historian

By Lynn White Jr.

The American Historical Review, Vol. 79, No. 1. (1974)

Introduction: On October 13, 1972, the American federal government established in Washington an Office of Technological Advancement to advise Congress on legislative problems related to new technology and its probable impact. This act reflects an ambivalence toward engineering innovation that has been rare during the last thousand years in the Occidental culture of which we are part. Both pagan and Christian antiquity, of course, had been dubious about technology. St.Augustine, the most penetrating mind of a groping age, expressed amazement at the ingenuity and variety of the arts, yet feared that the good coming from the may be counterbalanced by the evil of “so many poisons, weapons and military machines” in addition to superfluities and vanities. The Latin Middle Ages, by contrast, developed an almost entirely affirmative view of technological improvement. This new attitude is clearly detectable in the early ninth century, and by 1450 engineering advance had become explicitly connected with the virtues: it was integral to ethos of the West.

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